Sibelius: find works

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COMPOSERS: Sibelius
LABELS: Allegro Films
ALBUM TITLE: Fims by Chrstopher Nupen: The Early Years; Maturity and Silence
WORKS: find works
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashenazy, Elizabeth Söderström, Boris Belkin etc
CATALOGUE NO: A 05 CND
PRESENTATION: *****

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Until the mid-1980s, Christopher

Nupen’s films had been about

performers. And then the challenge

came to make one about a composer

– and to focus more on the works

than on the life. So why Sibelius?

And why then? Nupen was aware

of the unusually large archive of

Sibelius’s own writings about his

creative life, and he felt that the

time was ripe for reassessment. He

was right: for, in the decade that

followed his films, Sibelius’s music

once again leapt to the forefront.

Nupen’s priority was to uncover

the meaning of Sibelius’s music for us

today. And this new DVD of his two

films – The Early Years and Maturity

and Silence – vindicates his decision.

Biography is, of course, unavoidable,

and essential. Nupen’s quietly and

seriously narrated survey takes a

conservative path, chronologically,

through the symphonies. Each one

is related to the composer’s acute

inner struggles ‘to write what is

ultimately and forever right’. This is

not a naturally visual subject. But,

fortunately for Nupen, the natural

world affected Sibelius even more

than art or music itself – and his

natural world was Finland.

Sensitively edited extracts

from the symphonies, played by

the Swedish Radio Orchestra

under Vladimir Ashkenazy, and

Nupen’s own narrative, have as

their backdrop the snow-covered

pines, lakes and skies of the Finnish

landscape. A pity Nupen was so

sparing with paintings: Järnefelt’s

canvas of Koli, for instance, is the

obvious reference for the Fourth

Symphony, and would have varied

the eternal travelogue photography.

Little will be learned about Sibelius’s

smaller works, either. But the

sobriety and honesty of these films

make them an enduring resource

for those who know little, nothing,

or everything about Sibelius.

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Hilary Finch